Once again I have some rather sad news to impart; Sylvia Robinson has died aged 76 of congestive heart failure. She was perhaps the first person to see the commercial potential of rap music. She had a long career in the music industry before her involvement in the development of rap.
Her first hit came in 1957 with partner Mickey Baker (they were billed as Mickey and Sylvia). The song was “Love Is Strange” which still gets a reasonable amount of airplay even today. I know that song very well but I particularly remember her for the classic 1973 single “Pillow Talk”. This was a stone cold classic sultry, sexy and soulful song which was probably a massive influence on Donna Summer’s early career. Notably her 1975 hit “Love To Love You Baby”
Sylvia was born in New York as Sylvia Vanterpool and she said that her first exposure to what I suppose you could call proto-rap was at a club gig by DJ Lovebug Starski. He was calling out over a set of R & B sounds and eliciting great responses from his audience. Similar to the Jamaican Dance Hall and Sound System DJs who were known as Toasters. Later she was quoted as saying “A spirit said to me, ‘Put a concept like that on a record and it will be the biggest
thing you ever had” So that is exactly what she did! In 1979 she pulled together a few DJs and MCs that at the time were not well-known outside of New York; Big Bank Hank, Wonder Mike and Master Gee. She produced their first song “Rappers Delight” which made great use of a sample loop from Chic’s disco classic “Good Times”. It started life as a truly wonderful 15 minute epic tune and was then edited to around 7 minutes for release as a single. It was a massive hit in both the US and the UK. Whilst arguably it may not have been the first recorded rap song it was certainly the first commercially successful rap song. Robinson went on to co write the Grandmaster Flash and Melle Mel hit “White Lines (Don’t Do It)”
She set up the Sugarhill record label in 1979 which sadly closed in 1986. Her New jersey studio burnt down in 2002. Someone so talented and influential will be sorely missed. My thoughts go to her family, friends and fans all over the world. To remember this great lady please enjoy some classic Sylvia and Sylvia related moments;